Wednesday, July 29, 2009

City Guide - Marseille

A waiter from the area told us you will either love or hate Marseille – it is whatever you want it to be and people do anything they please.  Maybe I’m not that extreme, but I do really like it…

  • A day of exploring the city - a climb up to the Basilique de Notre Dame de la Garde, wander the windy streets of Marseille, take a bus ride to the family-friendly beaches.
  • Get on the water!  Take one of many ferries to the Ile de Frioul for a quiet beach day.  You’ll see lots of locals and tourists alike lined up for the  10€ round-trip ferry ride from Vieux Port to the Ile de Frioul and the Ile d’If. 
Ile d’If is the site of the prison (Chateau d’If) from Alexandre Dumas’ The Count of Monte Cristo.
Ile de Frioul, is an almost barren island, where a 20-minute walk from the dock takes you to a well-marked beach.  We found a tiny plot of sand amidst the rocky surroundings and had an almost completely private spot all to ourselves right on the edge of crystal-clear water.
  • Daytrip to Cassis Just a 30-minute bus ride away from Marseille is the adorable town of Cassis.

Our French friends spend a week or even two in Cassis for the summer, and many apartments are available only for a week-long stay in July and August.  But it is an easy day-trip from Marseille and offers a relaxing stroll through town,  a great beach and lots of things to do.  Various boats leave for tours of 3, 6 or 9 calanques for a 1 – 1 1/2 hour trip for about 10 - 15€.

Another easy daytrip by local train is Bandol.  Larger than Cassis, it offers lots of activities like a boat to the island of Los Porqueroles where bikes are the main form of transportation.  There are also diving boats and excursions that leave from the harbor.

Restaurant Peron (56 Corniche Kenndy, 13007 Marseille, +33 04 92 52 15 22)
This modern restaurant with a huge terrace right on the ocean is a nice break from the pace of the rest of Marseille. Although pricy at 48€, we decided to try the bouillabaisse and were not disappointed.  Served traditionally with toast bread, sauce rouille and fresh garlic, the dish was simple with only fresh white fish, but incredibly rich and flavorful.  They offer extra broth half way through the meal, and it is well worth taking them up on it!  Good wine too, mostly regional, including Rhône wines.

Lebanese Food - There are lots of great choices for Lebanese food.  A casual dinner of kebabs, humus and mint tea put us back about 30€ for two.

Logistics - Although not well-advertized, there is a private bus company (NAV Transportation) that makes the trip between Marseille and Cassis (and back) multiple times a day for 2,20€ each way.  The bus stop is marked with a small white sign tacked on a tree near the Castellane metro stop.  It sounds impossible to find, but follow people with towels and beach bags off the metro and you'll end up in the right place.  Then watch for the bus with CASSIS on the front.  The trip takes about 30-minutes.

  • TGV Train : Paris to Marseille, through Aix-en-Provence; return Marseille to Paris (about 150€ roundtrip)
  • Hotel: Grand Tonic Hotel, Marseille (4-star), 43 Quai des Belges, 13001 Marseille, +33 4 91 55 67 46

  • Resources and Souvenirs 

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